This mysterious virus protects against monkeypox

Monkeypox in Italy and Europe

It is a virus that has now disappeared and is only contained in smallpox vaccines.

monkeypox virus/NIAID

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Monkeypox in Italy and Europe

The vaccines used to eradicate smallpox, and those used today against monkeypox, are based on an unknown virus, which no one has ever been able to identify: a pathogen that could be described as a “ghost”, until now only present in the vaccine form. . Despite nearly three-quarters of a century of research, no one knows how, why, or specifically when this virus was first used as a smallpox vaccine, or if it still exists in nature. The only thing certain is that millions of people who lived in the era of smallpox owe their lives to its existence: without this enigmatic virus, it is also likely that the current monkeypox epidemic would have spread even faster. .

Smallpox is the virus that protects against disease

To take stock of the issue, there is the virologist José Esparza from the Robert Koch Institute, in Germany. ” For many years – he tells BBCpeople assumed that what we call cowpox was the same virus as cowpox. But it turned out that these two viruses were different, and since then we have accepted that the cowpox virus is a specific pathogen and that the cowpox virus is another virus of unknown origin.“. In other words, thanks to modern research techniques, researchers have realized that the vaccine is a member of the Orthopoxvirus group, a genome of viruses with a double-stranded DNA genome, which includes both humanpox and several other mammalian viruses, including camelpox, cowpox, cowpox, rabbitpox , rat pox, monkey pox, and raccoon pox. but none of the above.

vaccinatedin particular, it was found to be related to a horsepox virus, identified in Mongolia in 1979.” it is very similarexplains Esparza who, with his collaborators, has sequenced many other historic vaccines. ” In 31 samples we did not find cowpox in any of them“. Thus, it appears that most of the smallpox vaccines of the 19th and early 20th centuries were produced from horsepox, not cowpox, which was probably never used, or was perhaps quickly superseded by its cousin equina, as suggested by the research team from the Robert Koch Institute. , who also recently found unpublished evidence of a sea change in the vaccines used to prevent smallpox, which occurred around 1930, and the researchers who are currently studying it.

Basically, compared to the vaccine introduced by the British Edward Jenner in 1796, which was based on the transfer of a smallpox virus from one person to another, in 1860 Italian and French scientists introduced the animal vaccine. ” Instead of transmitting the virus from human to human, they found that they could put it back into the cows and keep it in the cows. clarifies Esparza -. Eventually, this mass production system spread to other animals, including sheep, horses, and donkeys.”.

At some point, a virus from an unknown animal began to be used as a smallpox vaccine. ” There is no record of who did it, when, why, or how they did it, but it may just have been an accident; virus. That worked fine, so no one noticed“.

Sometime after 1930, this mysterious virus became the most common vaccine, and by the mid-20th century, hundreds of different versions were circulating around the world. Then, in 1966, the World Health Organization announced the campaign to eradicate smallpox and chose only six vaccine strains to be used to achieve it. As the decade progressed, the dominance of the unknown virus became more entrenched.

But where is this virus now? And why has no one ever found the natural host for the vaccine? Researchers believe this strain once caused regular outbreaks in parts of Europe, but was not identified in the wild until 1976, when horses began to become ill with lesions and febrile symptoms in Mongolia. Improved agricultural practices and better diagnosis are believed to have led to their extinction. ” Smallpox practically disappeared from Europe at the beginning of the 20th century.Esparza noted, believing the mysterious virus used in modern smallpox vaccines may have met the same fate. ” We assume this possibility“.

The virus in the monkeypox vaccine

Today, this virus is more useful than ever against monkeypox, a close relative of smallpox but which tends to infect primarily rodents and nonhuman primates and is transmitted primarily through contact with contaminated bodily fluids or objects. Unlike human smallpox, monkeypox was first discovered in 1970 and, until recently, infections were mainly confined to Africa.

But starting in May 2022, it began to spread across the globe, with an unprecedented spread in humans. To curb it, many countries have ordered millions of doses of two previously used smallpox vaccines: the Imvanex vaccine developed by Bavarian Nordic and the ACAM2000 vaccine made by Sanofi Pasteru Biologics Co and Emergent BioSolutions, two sera that are exceptionally safe and considered highly effective. ., both from the same enigmatic virus that became the dominant smallpox vaccine in the 1930s. the vaccine is always in high demand.

But will we ever know where this virus came from? Esparza is skeptical. “We still have more questions than answers.The expert concludes, while revealing that he and his colleagues have made some progress in the investigation and that in the coming months they will reveal interesting details.

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